How to Use Your Brain(s) to Get More Out of Life …

“The brain is not solely in the head. The brain is in the heart and more.”
~ Aristotle 350, BC

Wait. Brains? Plural?

Yes. Four of them, in fact.

One, the head … two, the heart … three, the gut … and four, the spine.

Four separate, but equally important, brains.

It may seem odd — because your head brain has done a great job of convincing you it’s the only brain.

But actually, the four-brain theory makes sense. And, it could be why we struggle to get more done, more effectively, more often.

I first heard about this multiple brain theory back in 2003, when I picked up the book The Other 90% by Robert K. Cooper, PhD. And, I was reminded of it in his recent follow-up Get Out of Your Own Way.

So, these ideas have been around for at least a decade now. Fact is, they are starting to get real traction in the world of psychology and behavioral studies. And as a freelance writer, I’ve found the idea very useful in my career. Let me show you how.

Let’s start with the parts and then put them all together.

First, we have the head brain. This is our most relied-upon brain. Not because it’s the best or smartest, but because it is the loudest and most used. We are comfortable using our head brain … despite its ineffectiveness in many areas of our life.

Then, there is the gut brain. Literally more than 100 million specialized nerve cells, a complex circuitry that enables it to act independently, as well as learn, remember, and influence our perceptions and behaviors.

Third, is the heart. More than 40,000 neurons along with a complex system of neurotransmitters, proteins, and support cells as large as many of the key areas of the head brain.

Finally, there’s the newest of the brain research, the spinal column. There is less scientific evidence on this, but lots of proof. Helen Keller wrote about posture and how it helped her in decision-making and insights. And, the martial arts have long considered the spine the center of energy.

Now, here’s the thing …

We know intuitively these brains exist. We talk about them in everyday speech. Ever said, “My gut tells me …” or “Follow your heart …” or even “Stand tall …”

These aren’t just cute or clever expressions. Science is proving these to be very accurate. The problem is, we often disregard these signals in favor of the head brain’s “thinking” feedback.

Facts are, many times what we are “thinking” is actually input from our other brains. And that causes us conflict. We don't know how to process the information coming from the other brains. Mainly because we tend to discount “feelings” in favor of logic.

Thomas Stanley, author of The Millionaire Mind, calls this “Big brains, no bucks.” In other words, some of the world’s most successful people are so because they rely on their other brains more than unsuccessful people.

For instance, George Soros, billionaire investor, decides to change his market positions because he “feels opportunity in his back.”

So what?!

So what … does all this mean to you? How can you use this idea of multiple brains to do more, get more, and be more?

It’s actually quite simple. You need to push the head brain aside a little more often and listen to your heart, gut, and spine instead. When making decisions or considering what to do in a situation, be aware of all your thoughts and feelings. Are some not “logical”? Could they be coming from your heart, gut, or spine?

A good way to practice this is with object writing as described in fellow writer Cindy Cyr’s article, Ten Minutes to Better, Faster Writing.”

Then, the hard part. Take a few “risks” and just follow the instructions or prompting from the other three brains. What I’ve found is that with practice, you can build the strength of these brains … quickly.

Got a gut feeling about that client — good or bad? Follow it despite any other logic and see what happens.

Is your heart telling you to tell a certain story a certain way in your writing, but the head says that’s irrational? Follow the heart and then use the head to track what happens.

For example, a few years ago, I was called on to write a promotion for a book for AWAI. At the time, I was relatively unknown and a rookie writer at best. However, I wanted to tell my story in my voice. My heart told me this was the right approach and it would reach people the way logic can’t, even though my head told me no one knows who you are and they won't care.

My gut also told me to be very direct about the price of the book. Put it right upfront in the headline. Again, logic and my brain said the price goes at the end.

Even the co-author of the book — a very successful copywriter — doubted my lead and wrote a lead for me to test against my approach.

Well, I’m happy to report that my lead not only beat the logical approach by nearly 50%, but it also sold out the first run of the book for AWAI.

What about you?

As you look back over your life and use the clarity of hindsight, can you see any examples of when your gut, heart, spine, or head made a decision and how it turned out?

As you do, here are 4 things to look for …

  1. Look for Patterns — Look for patterns in relationships, career, family, shopping, driving … anything. What do those patterns tell you about how you make decisions? What brain is most accurate and why?
  2. Look for Early Warnings — Question hunches and surprises. Ask why you feel caught off guard or uncomfortable. Why are you more/less excited than usual? Don't dismiss the feeling, explore it.
  3. Pay Attention to Intuition — Do this before you can even put it into words. Ever said “This just doesn't feel right”? Don't ignore that. Give that feeling a day or two before making a decision, even if the feeling is contrary to a list of 16 logical reasons you should do something.
  4. Look for the Other Side — This is one I use everyday with my wife and kids. Whenever they tell me a story of what so-and-so did, I always remind them there are two sides (at least) to a story. This trains your other brains to look for data outside of the “facts” presented by the one side.

I challenge you to give your other brains a shot. In fact, let’s do it right now. What’s your gut reaction to this article? Fire away in the comments below …

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Published: November 23, 2011

10 Responses to “How to Use Your Brain(s) to Get More Out of Life …”

  1. My gut feeling is that you´re 100% right on, Sean. I often follow my heart or use my gut feelings as a balancing point for more practical thinking. I´ve relied on my other "brains" to make some major decisions in my life then sought out the logical steps to get me there. End result? I have no regrets and continue to follow this path more often than not. ;)
    Thanks for a great article.

    Guest (Jan Marie)November 24, 2011 at 2:33 pm

  2. I have had many "gut feelings" that I have gone against, and regretted the decisions later. As I get older I find it is often better to go with intuition, even though we have been trained to think with our heads and be logical. I find it hard to go against that training, but the more I write the more I see it is sometimes necessary. Your article has confirmed the need to listen to more than just my brain. Thank you!

    Diane ZiomekNovember 25, 2011 at 10:15 am

  3. Sean, I've always followed my "intuition" or gut / heart feelings, even though my family would describe me as "over-anaytical." I can totally agree with you there...The spine is very intriguing to me...Have to that one some more "me" time...Unlike Diane, I find it easier to follow my gut/heart as I get older...Like Jan Marie says, I think it's all about balance and using "all the tools" to corroborate (or in some cases to 'tame') feedback from the head brain...
    Thanks for a great article!

    KarenMNovember 26, 2011 at 8:30 pm

  4. Right now, my life is filled with "dare I follow my heart, listen to my gut, and grow a spine." Especially when it comes to taking the first steps in this, making writing my career. And hitting that "order" button...

    But ignoring those three hasn't created the life I want, so I'm all ears.

    Thanks for a great article!

    Guest (Cindy Lawrence)November 27, 2011 at 7:04 am

  5. Sean, having only used one of my brains up till now, this explains why I feel frustrated about not being heard. And this is because, I am not releasing all the things I really want to express, because my head, says, "Shut up mate, they don't want to hear that!" That's just stupid! You only talk rubbish anyway, lol!" Sean, "THANK YOU VERY MUCH" for writing and publishing this article!
    Thanks also go to my mate Neil, who pointed this article out to me, thanks mate!! :)
    SIMON HIGHSMITH UK

    Simon - BLIND PRO WRITER - UKNovember 28, 2011 at 9:10 am

  6. I FEEL LIKE IT TIME TO STEP OUT OF THE BOX AND REALIZE I HAVE A TALENT AND THAT TALENT IS WRITING. I BELIVE YOU ARE RIGHT ON AND I MUST USE MY GUT TO DRIVE ME AND I MUST STAY ON TRACK KNOWING THAT MY EXPERIENCE CAN BE HELP TO SOMEONE ELSE.

    Guest (PAMELA M COHEN)December 7, 2011 at 12:27 pm

  7. Hey Sean, really great post and you are definitely spot on with this. We definitely have a 'brain' in our heart, in our gut and of course the one in our head. As you point out we may also have one in our spine and there's also some evidence for one in our reproductive system. So lots of complex and functional neural networks or 'brains' distributed throughout our bodies.

    Two years ago, informed by the neuroscience on these brains, I used my gut instinct that these brains must be involved in their own core competencies and prime functions, to start doing behavioral modeling research on this. What I and my colleague Marvin Oka uncovered is some fascinating and powerful techniques and models for communicating with and aligning our multiple brains. And our work supports fully what you have written in your blog.

    If you are at all interested to check out our work, please take a look at mbraining.com or our newly released book 'mBraining - Using your multiple brains to do cool stuff

    Guest (Grant)August 25, 2012 at 11:05 pm


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